Its been long time in my mind and I have finally brought myself to jotting this down.
Since last couple of years, we have been seeing a number of “fasts” being used as a medium for getting attention and probably, have their demands met. This method of protest was first used in a large scale by Mahatma Gandhi with moderate success. According to me, the thing that really worked was the Non-Cooperation movement. Well, lets keep it for another day. It was still respectful but there was always a thin line (and a very thin line) separating it from blackmail.
In 2009, we had a relatively unknown politician by the name of KC Rao going into fast till death. His demand was to have a separate state of Telangana. This divisive and fragmenting a part of India ideology then received nationwide attention as well as discussions on the cabinet. Sadly, the Government of India was more worried about of the health of this politician rather than the repercussions of giving into this kind of demands. Now, I am not in a position to be aware of the reason for a separate state and how it would serve a population from a certain geographical location. This was nothing but yet again another example of the tribal mentality about which Jiddu Krishnamurthy used to speak. We have replaced certain part of the forest to a nation and sadly, as is the case in india, a certain part of the state. To hell with national unity and other so glorified patriotism. And yeah, this resulted in a few string of fast unto deaths for similar demands up in the North East.
In 2011, we had Anna Hazare going into fast to demand a Lokpal bill which is supposed to give more power to the voters. Again, the Government was enthusiastic enough to jump up for this man’s demand. I agree that it was quite an important issue but again doesn’t this just look like a blackmail. When the stake is raised to a life and then lives of the citizen, how exactly can you believe that you will get a honest response from the Government except for token promises. But then, there was media attention and highlights as well as a sense of power for which some people can go to any extremes. Then we had the theatrical fast of Ramdev Baba. Whatever credibility this medium of Satyagraha had was immediately lost and the Government resorted to one of the most shameful acts a democracy could have witnessed. Well, the less said the better.
Other than the general apathy of the government for the public unless challenged by such theatrical movements what is shameful indeed is the reason for such useless demonstrations. It has not helped India but only helped politicians earn more points to talk on. I feel for a certain Irom Sharmila (a genuine warrior poet, if there ever was one) whom the majority of the nation is not even aware of. Since 2 November 2000, she has been on hunger strike to demand that the Indian government repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA), which she blames for violence in Manipur and other parts of India's northeast. Having refused food and water for more than ten years, she has been called "the world's longest hunger striker (Source – Wiki). Every year she is arrested by the police and then force fed (nasogastric intubation, a painful procedure) by the State under IPC Section 309.
The Government’s apathy towards Irom Sharmila and their action against the other mentioned fasts states something about the people who rule this “once upon a time great country”. But the thing that I feel sad about is that whereas KCR was demanding division and separation and Anna was demanding for transparency and accountability in the ruling of the government, Irom Sharmila was asking for a basic right of every living being – Freedom.
From the activist to the spiritualist- Santhara is a religious tradition of fasting unto death as followed in Jainism. It is where an individual will voluntarily avoid eating and reflect on their life till death. This will take them closer to Liberation (God, Enlightenment, Shiva). Thankfully, the Law of India does not constitute this as a “suicide”. Hopefully, it is for the respect of the tradition and the rich rationale behind it.
As always, hope good sense prevails.
P.S.: There exist a similar Hindu practice known as Prayopavesa. (Source – Wiki).